Bespoke Means Made For Me, Not Made To Measure

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It seems a shame that while the French officially recognise the importance of ‘haute couture’ as a label of quality and its use is strictly controlled, the British government will let any Tom, Dick or Harry offer made-to-measure suits and call them bespoke. Whilst there is certainly a modicum of sniffiness (or unfairness?) in this sentiment, the distinction is apparent and succinctly stated. The traditional meaning of bespoke is that a suit plan is drawn up specifically for the customer, whilst made-to-measure means that an existing suit plan is modified to fit the customer. It’s that simple – bespoke means made from scratch, a personal suit for one individual.
It isn’t a question of the artisan involved in the making of it. There will often be aspects of a bespoke suit which will be machined, just as there are often aspects of made-to-measure suits that involve handwork. Nor is it a question of having fittings – there may well be a fitting for a made-to-measure suit. It isn’t even about the quality of the suit – I could knock you up a bespoke suit from scratch but since I’m not a tailor, I think we can both assume it would not be well made. But the essential element of an individually designed suit incorporating details and specifications according to what the wearer wants is the old and true definition of ‘bespoke’, and not the modern watered-down adulterated meaning.
This leads me to another bugbear. The word ‘bespoke’ applies to suits. It has been appropriated by everybody under the sun and taken to mean simply ‘ordered for someone specifically’ but the word was originally coined by tailors and used only in tailoring.
I don’t want anyone to think that I’m the kind of person who goes around complaining about words and bothering people about standards and traditions. Language is a flexible tool, a moveable feast, and must evolve or die. I do however think that we should at least try to adhere to definitions. For example, if I went to a shop and was told I would be getting a bespoke suit, I would expect a suit to be made to my specs – not a pre-existing pattern altered purely for fit. I would expect to be able to stipulate fabrics, button holes, buttoned “surgeon’s” cuffs, lapel style and width and so on. That would be a bespoke suit worth talking about, and anything else is, in my opinion, plainly unworthy of the name.
Paolo Andrade is a male model, and has a professional interest in looking good. He wrote this article on bespoke suits on behalf of